Changes in meaning

Right on the heels of our discussion in the latest episode of the podcast about the nature of liturgical change, and particularly the idea that even using the same words comes to mean something different over time, I (Ian) see that there is now an excellent article by Dr. Elizabeth Anderson in the Living Church on this very subject.

In it, Dr. Anderson examines the language we use for the Trinity, using examples from the patristic period to illustrate, both insightfully and hilariously, how what we mean when we say the same words isn’t the same as what has been meant in the past. The words we use shift over time, and sometimes entire concepts are redefined. We simply can’t use the same words and have them continue to mean the same things in perpetuity.

Her words are important for us all to consider. For those of us who oppose Prayer Book revision, it’s worth looking into what the historical semantic range of some of the terms we take for granted is. And if we’re in favor of Prayer Book revision, it’s worth looking into ways that we can convey the historic content of the faith using words that might be more accurate today, rather than trying to invent whole liturgies out of whole cloth.

I commend her article to you. I hope to keep grappling with its implications for a long time to come.


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